The head of the Criminal Assets Bureau has insisted a fresh legal challenge by convicted criminal John Gilligan to the sale of Jessbrook Equestrian Centre and adjoining lands has "no legal basis" and will not be successful.
The centre, near Johnstownbridge on the border between Kildare and Meath, was constructed by Mr Gilligan in the mid-1990s. It was seized by the bureau after his drugs empire was crushed following the murder of journalist Veronica Guerin in 1996.
The estate has been the subject of a legal battle between Mr Gilligan and the State ever since but was finally put up for sale last month following the exhaustion of all legal avenues open to him. This week however, on the eve of his release from Portlaoise's maximum security prison after serving 17 years for drugs offences, the 61-year-old sought a High Court order aimed at deterring prospective buyers.
He secured a notice of lis pendens, or suit pending. It argues that the estate is subject to litigation. If Mr Gilligan later won his case, the asset might have to be reinstated to him.
The head of the bureau, Detective Chief Superintendent Eugene Corcoran, yesterday told the Irish Times Mr Gilligan's latest attempts to frustrate the sale of the estate would have "no effect".
"There has been some publicity about lis pendens," he said. "There have been signs put on the land to that effect. They're not something that will deter us in the least. They have no effect. We may require clarification from the courts confirming their non-effectiveness but we have the authority of the High Court to continue to dispose of the property and that's what we intend to do.
“I have no idea what John Gilligan proposes to do but he will not retain the lands that have been declared by the court to be the proceeds of crime – it’s as simple as that. I think what he’s doing has no legal basis.”
The bureau has received its first firm bids for Jessbrook and Chief Supt Corcoran said he was confident prospective buyers would not be fearful or deterred by the level of interest Mr Gilligan has expressed in retaining the estate. “We’ve had quite a bit of interest in the lands despite that,” he said.
"The case is probably the most widely publicised in the history of the State. It may deter some people but it hasn't deterred quite a number of people from making enquiries and we have had a good deal of interest."
There has been widespread speculation as to the existence – and extent of – criminal assets of Mr Gilligan's that have so far proven beyond the reach of the authorities. Mr Gilligan himself once claimed these amounted to as much as €19 million.
“He makes a lot of claims,” said Chief Supt Corcoran. “It depends on who you talk to. There is speculation about hidden assets. This has been the subject of quite an intensive investigation and I can’t definitively say he doesn’t. On the other hand, I can say we have conducted a pretty extensive investigation.”
In terms of whether Mr Gilligan and his lifestyle will be monitored from now on, Chief Supt Corcoran said it was not within the remit of the bureau to scrutinise individuals in this manner.
“The primary concern for us is to deprive or deny an individual of the benefit of a criminal asset,” he said.
“We don’t focus on any individual except in those circumstances. John Gilligan is no different from anybody else in that respect. No person is treated any differently. The bureau doesn’t have a function in any monitoring or ongoing supervision following his release. Provided something comes within the remit of the bureau, then we will take action.”